JB: Once you eventually decided that transitioning was what you wanted to do, you had many tricky hurdles ahead of you: not the least being telling your adult children and colleagues. How did you prepare for that? Weren't you petrified?
GAS: It was the spring of 2009, about a year after I started to go out dressed as a woman, when I felt that I had to tell my kids. My thought process was that if anything ever happened to me when I was out dressed, I did not want my family to find out in a "bad" situation. At this time, I had no plan or idea that I would eventually transition but was on a path of exploration and really trying to understand all the forces that were always inside of me. The fear of calling a meeting, and then saying the words "I am transgender" was difficult but I knew it had to be done, as I was more petrified by them finding out without me telling them.
When I decided that I would transition, which occurred in late 2010, the hardest part in my decision process was the fear that my kids would abandon me. I am blessed and lucky that this never happened. I did force everyone in my family to go on a journey they never planned on, but we are still a family.
JB: You are incredibly lucky, Grace. I imagine that many people do not have such good fortune in that department. Let's talk a moment about the "collateral damage" when a person embarks on a journey like this. It's really hard to be mindful of others when you are in the midst of so much change and growth. What have you learned from your experience that could be helpful to someone else in a similar situation?
GAS: This is such a large and difficult subject. There is a saying that is used in the trans community:
You don't have choice in being transgender.
You do have a choice in what you do about it.
Even with that being said, it seems that many people will go from denial to ultimately reach some form of self-acceptance. Once this point is reached, when we want to share our discovery of our new sense of who we are, we want everyone to jump on board with us. This does not often occur, as we may have a hard time realizing that there are so many reasons that wanting this looks like we are self-centered and selfish and care only about ourselves. I tell people that when you are thinking about transitioning, you need to be prepared to lose everything and everyone in your life.
JB: That's harsh.
GAS: The choice of what one does about being transgender requires a careful balance of what I call the choice between "Being ME" and "Being WE". Can one transition or not transition and keep all parts of their life in balance? There is not one simple answer or way to do this. Many relationships and families are torn apart. This is so sad. I hope that as more discussions like this appear, people will learn to understand and accept that being transgender is not a choice and not something that has an on/off switch.
JB: You were an engineer for many years; now you are a counselor and trainer; at one point, you were both engineer and counselor. How did getting this second degree and career play into your self-actualization?
GAS: I often cannot believe that while in a successful career as what might be described as a Type "A" highly directive, in-charge engineering manager, I start to go down a path where I will sit down, build a relationship with people, listen carefully and learn to hold up a mirror with suggestions but not tell them how to live their lives.
In 2005, when I went to a group interview as part of the counseling program admitting process, the interviewer asked me why I wanted to become a counselor. I look back at my response in dismay: I said "I am an engineer and program manager, and I want to help fix people!" She nodded knowingly, and moved on to the next person. Somehow, they still admitted me and, class by class, I learned that counselors and therapists DO NOT FIX PEOPLE!
The more I was taught, about the relationship between counselor and client as the primary part of the healing work, the more I found myself going inside to work on my internal relationship, which can be considered what you call self-actualization.
JB: Yes, it's quite a shift in perspective going from problem-solver to facilitator. Tell us, please, who you work with in your counseling and training and how that's going.